1. Aguero targets Arsenal’s full-backs
Sergio Aguero was fantastic, and sent a clear message to incoming coach Pep Guardiola that one of the old guard still has some life left in him. The former Atletico Madrid striker was everywhere for his side playing alongside youngster Kelechi Iheanacho.
It was Iheanacho’s presence that allowed Aguero greater freedom to roam into space, while still being the focal point in attack. At the Bernabeu last week, the Argentine would often drop deep in search of the ball, which meant they didn’t have anyone available to hold up the ball and relieve the pressure.
Aguero expertly pulled into wide areas here, as he isolated Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal while simultaneously attempting to drag Arsenal’s centre-backs out of position. He showed his intent early on when he shoulder-barged Bellerin off the ball and won Manchester City a corner. Moments later he displayed his strength once more to power his way into the area before smashing a cross across the six-yard box.
Shortly afterwards he gave City the lead. Jesus Navas chipped the ball into the path of Fernandinho and the midfielder, who completed all four of his attacking aerial duals, headed it on to Aguero. The forward let Mohamed Elneny dive in before turning away from goal and hitting a superb left-footed shot past Petr Cech.
Aguero terrorised the Arsenal full-backs and achieved eight of his 10 attempted take-ons in their vicinity, but also pulled wide to create danger regularly.
2. Wenger content with a draw
Arsenal’s display last season at the Etihad Stadium was viewed as something of a milestone at the time – Arsene Wenger had demonstrated that he could produce a counter-attacking masterclass after all. The manager tried to repeat the feat here, but his side lacked both cutting edge and defensive discipline to settle for a draw.
They didn’t get going until City opened the scoring, and even then it was only after the encouragement of an error from their former left-back Gael Clichy. The Frenchman’s attempted header back to Joe Hart almost fell into his own net, with Hart relieved to see the ball bounce wide of his post.
That relief was short-lived when Olivier Giroud headed in the resulting corner following a cross from Elneny. The striker was left completely unmarked, after losing his man with the minimum amount of movement.
The second equaliser came after Alexis Sanchez played a one-two with Giroud, which put the Chilean through on goal. He sent Hart the wrong way with a fine strike, as Santi Cazorla waited on the touchline ready to come on.
Wenger obviously wanted more creativity at that stage, but the goal resulted in the Spaniard returning to the stands. Ten minutes later Francis Coquelin entered the fray, with Wenger seemingly happy to close the game out and earn a point.
3. Should Pellegrini have used 4-4-2 more this season?
Like his opposite manager, Manuel Pellegrini has been accused of stubbornness throughout his tenure in England. The Chilean used a 4-4-2 formation when he first arrived in Manchester, with his wide players combining together in order to overload the opposing full-backs when in possession.
This approach won him a league title, although he lost in consecutive seasons to Barcelona in Europe. The pundits rounded on the coach and accused him of naivety, even though his former club Malaga had beaten Luis Enrique’s men by deploying the same system.
Their manager Javi Gracia simply asked his wide players to tuck in when the ball was on the opposite flank, so that his team weren’t outnumbered by the three-man midfield. Another option is to have one of the strikers drop into the No.10 position or even have one of the wingers move between the lines when a forward makes a run into the channel.
Kevin De Bruyne is excellent at drifting laterally into this area, and his directness and strength were evident as he shrugged off the challenge of Aaron Ramsey for City’s second goal. He cleverly brought the ball under control with his head, then cut inside before unleashing a quality strike past Cech.
The Belgian created four chances in the match – his crossing was pinpoint accurate – although it was his sublime chip into the path of Aguero with 15 minutes remaining that had the supporters on their feet, when Aguero’s first-time volley narrowly missed the upright.
4. Isn’t it a bit late for all the urgency?
City managed just one shot on target across the two legs against Real Madrid in Champions League semi-final, as they exited the competition with a whimper. It has been the story of their season against the better sides – they have simply surrendered and offered very little resistance.
There was a tempo and hunger about their football from the start here, which has been sadly lacking throughout the campaign. If they showed this much desire in many other matches this term, then they might be a little closer to Leicester and not hoping their rivals Manchester United slip up if they are to hold onto fourth place.
“Our first 25 minutes were some of the best here this season,” Pellegrini concluded after the match. The manager bid farewell to the City fans on the centre circle after the game, with as many supporters watching the big screens erected outside the ground as there were still inside the Etihad.
They may not have won the match but they certainly showed fight until the very end, as both Aguero and Wilfried Bony went close in the final 20 minutes of the game. City have won just one of their 14 Premier League matches against the rest of the top eight (Southampton), which explains their miserable 12 months in the league.
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